After reading even a little nautical fiction one is impressed by the brutish qualities of life aboard ship. This is especially true during the battles at sea, during which heavy lead balls were flung across the water, hurtling into air, into ship, into rigging, and into men. One of the most memorable passages in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series occurs during just such an engagement. Captain Aubrey is on deck, giving orders, and he turns to speak to one of his men, only to find that the man’s head has just been taken off by a cannonball. Not pretty.

But one gets the impression from these tales that even more deadly than cannonballs was the shrapnel they created. These “splinters” of wood (it seems odd to call a large hunk of jagged wood a splinter, yet such is the case) were reportedly a common source of injuries.

Apparently the show Mythbusters recently attempted to answer the question, “What hurt more people, cannonballs or the splinters they made?” From what I can gather, they weren’t able to produce satisfactory splinters, which led the hosts to conclude the splinters weren’t as dangerous as many people think. (This paragraph is all based on third-hand accounts, but I think I have the gist of things correct.)

This led to a fascinating AskMetafilter question regarding cannonballs, splinters, and the Mythbuster methodology. (The thread features a response from one of the show’s hosts, Adam Savage.)

All of this is prologue, however. What this entry is really about is showing Dave and Joel and Andrew (and all my other pirate buddies) the keen Fighting Sail Exhibit page. It’s awesome, particularly for the video of cannons being fired into a reconstructed mid-section. I’ve mirrored the video here in case the original page goes away. Watch and enjoy!

[I wouldn’t have found this without Matt pointing it out]

3 Replies to “Cannonballs and Splinters”

  1. Dave says:

    Any time you’re on the receiving end of a high velocity (high= faster than I can run, in this case) projectile it’s a bad time. Its like taking your wife to the shooting range and finding out she’s a good shot. Run!

  2. The Cat Whisperer says:

    Speaking of cannonballs and splinters… let’s all go see a sneak preview of an unfinished nautical film… don’t forget a pencil and lined notepad!

  3. Dave says:

    Wait, wait. I think I’ve heard this one and I already know how this ends. Oh no, that’s right. I DIDN’T get to see how it ended…

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